At his village, they affectionately call him the joka ni pulu. It could be translated as 'master of the bullocks'.
Savirio Toloi, 15, only smiles when he hears that name and coaxes his cows on, dragging a roughly hewn cart loaded with bags of copra. The dried copra bags were headed for the riverbanks, about two miles from the village where they would be loaded onto outboard powered boats headed for the market.
Savirio provides a crucial service for the copra farmers at Naduru Village and Valetokani settlement in the jungles of the Dogotuki District in Vanua Levu.
From morning till dusk, he carts cargo, to and from the riverbanks to the village and settlement, an important task in the absence of a proper road. He kept to himself, shyly avoiding our visiting party but when I did talk to him he relates a cruel twist of fate that changed his life.
Last year Savirio was in Class Eight, had passed his exams and looked forward to a new school year as a Form Three student with new friends to make and new things to learn. However, just a few weeks before school early this year, he woke up with an immense ear ache. Things seemed to go downhill from then on for this teenager.
A day later doctors discovered a boil in his ear, gave him an injection but the next day he was partially paralysed. "I couldn't walk or talk and I was just so scared I would die. I didn't know what was happening to me. The left side of my body was paralysed. All I did was cry," Savirio relates.
His mother, Ilisapeci Damiano sits close by listening to her son relate the frightful events that unfolded early this year. "He was in and out of hospital. He was even admitted at the Suva hospital. They all said he had been given the wrong medication. He couldn't go to school so we decided not to enroll him for the new school year. I think that disappointed him the most," Mrs Damiano said.
When Savirio finished his last day at the hospital, he came home shy and withdrawn. "Most times he didn't want people around him. He stayed indoors a lot because he was ashamed of the way the left side of his lip drooped from the paralysis. He couldn't speak properly," Mrs Damiano said.
"He didn't want to go to school after that because he feared the students would bully him, and tease him so he decided to spend this year at home." As the days grew into months, Savirio's health improved.
Over time, exercise and a healthy diet strengthened his limbs and the paralysis wore off. "Now my lips seem to pull to the left side but although I am sad and angry this happened to me, that I had to leave school, hope never left me. Deep within I wanted to get better and I did everything I could," he said.
While at home, the teenager helped out his parents who are copra and yaqona farmers. "Early in the morning I plant cassava, go out to fetch copra and help my parents with all household chores. But the best thing I like doing is carting cargo to the river bank. I enjoy walking the cows and bullocks," he said.
Although his life has been struck by tragedy, Savirio plans to resume school next year. "I'm just taking time off to recover. I want to go back to school next year because that is a way out of the hard life that we live out here in the village. Yes, you are right that my life has been struck by tragedy but I think that I have learnt a great lesson. Now that I have been at home, I now realise just how tough life can be for my parents as farmers so I want something different.
More than ever now I value education and how important it is. I even miss it. "That's why I am looking forward to next year."
Adpted fom Fijitimes Online